A Request for Proposal (RFP) is an invitation for vendors to submit a proposal to provide a specific product or service. It is intended to provide the supplier with the necessary information needed to submit a definitive approach to delivery of some or all of your program functions for your political committee. Generally, these functions include marketing and fundraising, compliance, technology, event management or other critical components of your program.
A bidding process is one of the best methods for leveraging your organization’s negotiating ability and purchasing power with vendors and consultants. The RFP is the most important and widely used document in the proposal stage of that process regarding outsourcing. The ultimate objective of the RFP process is for you to ensure you are getting the most value for the services and products you are seeking to outsource.
Numerous RFP best practices have been identified by surveys, studies and practical experience of outsourcing parties. Here are some to consider.
- Assess yourself. An assessment of your operation is critical for establishing baseline measurements for progress, and for identifying all of your PAC-related needs. You cannot identify and measure future success without first conducting an internal assessment.
- The basics. Your RFP must provide three pieces of critical information: 1) your organization’s needs, 2) the circumstances under which the vendor’s services will be needed, and 3) how you expect services to be delivered.
- Be specific. Specify the scope of work to be outsourced. Specificity is needed to ensure that all vendors participating in the RFP process are bidding on the same activities. This enables your team to accurately compare apples to apples among vendor proposals.
- Details matter. RFPs should be sufficiently detailed to explain the job, but no more. You are selling yourself and your organization as a considerate and reliable partner, one who respects a vendor’s time. Don’t overcomplicate the process by asking for information that is unnecessary to decision-making.
- The format. RFP lengths vary depending on complexity, but are generally 5 – 20 pages in length. Key ingredients should include an executive summary, a detailed description of the work to be outsourced, specific process and performance expectations of the vendor, a responsibility matrix that defines expected responsibilities for both the organization and vendor, and proposal guidelines to be followed by those vendors submitting proposals.
- Pricing. High level pricing information is generally solicited in the RFP, although specific pricing is generally not valid at this stage. In fact, pricing information contained in the RFP has absolutely no validity, and should not be considered relevant. The reason is because prior to the negotiation of specific responsibilities of each party in the engagement, specific pricing is irrelevant.
- Ask questions. Many questions for vendors will pertain to the requirements of the company and the engagement. It is also important to ask about the provider’s business – current clients, scope of work, geographic range, number of employees, number of employees who would work on your engagement, and the ability to meet deadlines. The bottom line is that you should seek information you need to make certain the partnership will work.
- Be cost conscious. Remember that there is a cost to the vendor to prepare responses. The more you ask of the vendor during the request process, the more cost you add to their business. Give the vendor appropriate time to respond. Vendor responses to RFPs generally include detailed solutions and approaches to help your organization improve. It is recommended that three to four weeks is the appropriate amount of time expected for a vendor to respond to a detailed RFP.
- Schedule a meeting. A timely meeting following your RFP gives participating vendors an opportunity to raise questions related to the RFP. It is normally held within one week after receiving the RFP, and at least one week prior to the proposal due date.
- Non-disclosure agreements. Request a non-disclosure agreement from your vendors or send one along with your RFP. Both parties are providing proprietary information, and both have vested interests in ensuring that it remains confidential.
Trey Richardson is managing partner of Sagac Public Affairs, a national company providing communications, research, fundraising and management solutions to hundreds of political, non-profit and corporate organizations. Sagac is the leader in the political community for strategy and implementation of political action committee finance operations.